BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — An upscale suburban school district in Westchester County is on the defensive in the face of lawsuits stating children got cancer from playing on contaminated athletic fields.
Two ball fields at Briarcliff High School have been fenced off since 2010, the year athlete Demetri Demeropoulos died from a cancer some believe was linked to the dirt below the surface.
Former classmates said they’re convinced there’s something in the dirt that caused an otherwise healthy teenager to die.
“I don’t think its normal for two kids under the age of 18 to be diagnosed with brain cancer in one town,” Olivia Santiago told CBS 2’s Lou Young on Thursday.
“I definitely think there is a link between those fields and illness in our town,” Briarcliff High School graduate Jenny Rosen told Young.
Three Briarcliff Manor families have sued the school district, claiming the fields gave their children cancer. The school district concedes the soil is contaminated, but insisted the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are too low to be a serious problem.
Residents in town who are not part of the lawsuit told CBS 2 they are worried about their children’s health over the long-term.
“We’re almost afraid to find out the truth because if it is that bad, how do you deal with it?” said Adeline Olmer, whose two children attended Briarcliff High School.
The ball fields were built 14 years ago under a program called “Fill for Fields.” A Yonkers construction firm was actually allowed to dump its construction debris on the grounds of the high school in exchange for help in developing the field.
The company told the school board the trash was uncontaminated, but subsequent tests indicated it wasn’t. The firm lost a lawsuit and went out of business, leaving the school board to deal with it.
“The unfortunate thing, Mr. Young, is that this situation should have been closed out a long time ago and it hasn’t and the current board is taking all of the steps and action necessary to close that out,” Briarcliff Manor school board president Sal Maglietta told Young
The school district said it commissioned three sets of tests on the fields, concluding they posed no health hazard. Critics said the samples used were too small and follow-up monitoring of the site wasn’t completed.
The school board will meet next week to decide what should happen.
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